Italian mystery-hunter Silvano Vincenti, known for his scheme to dig up the bones of Lisa Gherardini, the presumed model for the Mona Lisa, is trying to bring the iconic painting to Florence in 2013. While no official request has yet been made — Vincenti is hoping to get 100,000 people to sign his petition and to marshal the support of the Italian parliament — the Louvre has already refused, with painting department director Vincent Pomarède telling AFP that the Mona Lisa is "extremely fragile and travel risks causing irreversible damage."
While its potential trip to Florence has been nixed, the Mona Lisa has traveled in the past, and ARTINFO France has compiled a list of its journeys — both authorized and unauthorized.
1911 - 1913
The Mona Lisa — which Leonardo da Vinci began painting in Florence in 1503 and took with him to France, where it entered the collection of French king François I — made an illicit trip to its hometown four centuries later. In 1911, the painting was stolen from the Louvre by Vincenzo Peruggia, a museum employee who kept the masterpiece under his bed for two years before taking it to Florence and trying to sell it. Silvano Vincenti's current request for a loan of the Mona Lisa in 2013 is intended to commemorate the centennial of the painting's recovery in 1913.
One of the stranger episodes in French cultural history, the theft of the painting caused a huge scandal, especially since no one at the museum noticed that it was missing until an artist planning on sketching the portrait found a blank space on the wall. Initially, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire was accused of the crime and arrested. After questioning him, French police also held Pablo Picasso, who was a friend of Apollinaire's, but ended up releasing both men after a few days. When caught two years later, Peruggia said that he wanted to return the painting to its country of origin, and got off with a very light sentence in an Italian court.
1938 - 1945
With the possibility of war with Germany looming in 1938, French officials hid the Mona Lisa for three days before returning it to the Louvre when the Munich Agreement seemed to lessen the danger. When France declared war in 1939, museum officials packed up the painting in a double-walled crate and moved it to various secure underground locations in the Château de Chambord, the Château d'Amboise, the abbey of Loc-Dieu, and the Ingres Museum in Montauban. The painting then migrated to a spot under the Louvre conservator's bed before hiding out in the Château de Montal in southern France. Finally, after the war's end, la Joconde returned to the Louvre in June 1945.
In January, French culture minister André Malraux accompanied the Mona Lisa to the United States. The loan was made directly to then-president John F. Kennedy and a special viewing was held at the National Gallery for the president and his cabinet, the Supreme Court, the Congress, and the diplomatic corps. At the National Gallery, the painting was guarded around the clock by U.S. Marines and over 500,000 people came to see it over 27 days. The Mona Lisa was then shown at the Met, where it attracted 1.2 million visitors. Just two years ago, former Met director Thomas Hoving revealed in his memoirs that a faulty sprinkler system sprayed water onto the painting when it was locked up in a secure storeroom in the museum at night. No damage was done thanks to the protective glass.
The last time it was on loan, the Mona Lisa headed to the Tokyo National Museum and to Moscow's Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. Over 1.5 million people saw the painting in Tokyo, which is still a record for exhibition attendance at a Japanese museum. The triplex glass box that now houses the Mona Lisa was a thank-you gift from the Japanese.